How hard can it be? So I’m supposed to write a short review of these 150 patches for Zebra 2 called Continuum, how hard can it be? Well, it’s not hard, it just takes time. A lot of time. No, not the writing in itself. With the risk of spoiling this entire review and giving it away right at the top I must say that while going through these presets I had to stop several times and just create some songs! They are just so damn inspiring these presets!
Let’s start with me trying to explain why I think these presets are so good. Zebra 2 is one of my favourite soft synths – I use it almost every day in just about every project. The accompanying presets are both varied and good. I’m one of those guys who like to sit and tweak, tweak, tweak until the sound is just like what I want it to be. Often I have a clear ”image” of the sound in my head before I start to create it, quite often I get approximately the sound I’m after. And I’m not afraid to start with the ”init” patch either. So, why do I like presets then?
It’s quite simple, presets from other sound designers often gets me out of my little box, or comfort zone if you will. On u-he’s site there are links to quite a lot of free presets from various people and some are quite good.
So, I like to tweak my own sounds and there are a lot of free sounds out there. If you’re anything like me you might wonder why bother with a purchase of 150 sounds for £19.99 then? It’s just about £0.13 per patch? Well, read on. I’ve already mentioned that presets can get me somewhere I thought I wasn’t meant to be, but I like it when I’m finally there. Sounds familiar?
Installation is quite simple, put the folder of presets along with your other Zebra 2 presets. There are instructions for where to put them if you’re on a PC but not if you’re on a Mac. The path for Mac is: Library/Audio/Presets/u-he/Zebra2/.
Zebra Continuum Sound
On the tin it says: “Zebra Continuum is a collection of 150 patches for u-he’s hugely versatile Zebra2 synth, aimed at electronic/hybrid film scoring and also deep, ambient electronica.” What does it sound like then? In one word, freakingfantasticlygorgeous! The meat of the presets are in the pads apartment. However, the 23 sequence and 14 soundscape presets are really enough. For me at least.
The word “continuum” describes it pretty much spot on. Every preset has some form of movement or evolvement, they are not static. You can simply select a preset, hold a single note (or a chord for that matter) for quite some time and if you will play a bit with the modulation wheel. They can take you from A to B but in a very gradual way. They’re gorgeous. They are good. They are very inspiring. And let me tell you now, Matt is a very talented guy!
Nearly all presets have something assigned to the modulation wheel. For some it’s just a simple timbre changing effect in the form of some filter control but in others it completely transforms the sound to something completely different. Take a preset like SC Dark Cloisters, hit G2 and slowly play with the modulation wheel between 24-60. Gorgeous. There is really nothing more to it!
An example of the genius behind these presets. Take preset PD Month Song, it uses two modules: OSC1 and XMF1, a pretty simple patch yes? But it doesn’t sound simple! Far from it. And playing with the modulation wheel makes the filter overload and it breaks up in a bit of lovely distorsion. Another example, PD Crystal Skulls. It only uses OSC1 and OSC2, no filter needed!
But there is more. I really like the added effort and the amount of thought that has gone into each preset in regard to the performance controls. This is one thing that sets these preset apart from various free ones. It’s a lot of thought behind the design. The preset LP Snapper Red is a good example. If you only hit a key and think you’ve got it you’re wrong. For this preset the performance pads gives you control over Filter 1, Filter 2, Modulation and Envelopes. The pads give you control over the patch in a very musical way, even if it’s ”only” a short noise burst repeated with delays and a touch of reverb. Put Envelopes in the top right corner and play around with the modulation and you’ve got instant BPM-synced shortwave radio!
And just to mention another example of the totally different sound of a patch when playing with the performance pads, LD Tarilonte. Wiggle away on the FM pad and you’ll totally trash the sound (in a good, good way).
If there is one thing I find on the negative side it’s the output volume of the patches. It’s not something that is exclusive to these patches though. I like to have my levels at about -18 dBfs but some of these sounds made peaks at about +7 dBfs, not so nice. But it’s a simple thing to turn down the level approximately 9 dB before starting to go through it all and as I said it’s not exclusive to continuum, it just ”is”.
My conclusion of these presets is this: if you’re in search (or need) of patches that sound good right out of the box and are scoring a film and need that little extra ”bottom” or ”pixie dust” on your tracks you’ll be a fool indeed to miss these patches. They are not just good, they are really, really good and inspiring. The time it must have taken to make these makes me want to buy them twice just so Matt will continue to create presets. Or, if you’re just after some inspiration to get you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go, give these presets a go. The price of £19.99 is a steal for all the places they will take you.
I’m almost tempted to buy each and every synth Matt has ever made presets for, but my hope is that he’ll make some for u-he’s ACE next. Now, back to those songs I started on. Zebra Continuum is available on http://www.theunfinished.co.uk/shop/zebra-continuum for £19.99.